First time here? Confused about being in South America and the lack of tattoos? Start here
Of course you’ll want to get right to the part about the monkey but I have some bad news. Much like all of the advertisements I saw in Venezuela promising “soft beds”, “clean water”, and “working air conditioning” you have been taken in by false advertising.
Yes there were monkeys and of course many inappropriate things happened on my journey but the monkeys were not directly involved. And NO, you may not have your money back – that is not how we do things here in South America. You MAY however have this pet monkey as a consolation (a bargain that was actually suggested to me when my bus ticket failed to correspond to an actual bus – if only I has said “yes” imagine how compelling this post would be).
Ok here is one monkey story. As the days passed and Paul and I basically killed time several things became clear. First and foremost was I had been a victim of false advertising. (see, you’re not alone!)
Paul had come across like the Don Juan of Don Juan’s in his letters and I had been promised a “proper shagging” in explicit detail. Yes, there was a shag but there was nothing proper about it. What’s worse there was nothing improper about it. It would have been described as “technically a shag” and that is all.
When I screwed up my courage to ask him about the disconnect between his letter personality and, you know, reality he said he was “still knackered” (we had been here for 10 days at this point) and he would “eventually get round to it” which sounded more like promising to take down your winter shutters than making mad sweet love to a woman. I resigned myself to go shagless – proper or otherwise – and decided to focus on the next leg of the trip.
While deciding where to head next we took little trips into the city and followed Ana to classes a couple of times. Ana seemed very busy – too busy to spend time with us really and eventually pawned us off on a classmate, Claudia.
Claudia was also an architecture student and was far less wealthy than Ana. She lived in a modest highrise in the city (although she too had a live in maid) and she became our de-facto guide for the next two weeks. She took us to the open air markets and helped us with our Spanish and our haggling (I’m a natural, thank you very much). She took us to her classes and out with her friends at night. I saw beautiful mansions with rooms strung with hammocks and people playing guitar and horseshoes. I was invited into the home of one of her professors whose apartment looked so much like a Boston Brownstone complete with overflowing mahogany bookshelves and in every nook and cranny a work of art, a map, or a sculpture. This kind man also helped show me how all the romance languages were connected and how easy they can be to learn.
With Claudia we went to every kind of place both high and low and really saw the city. We even went to her favorite restaurants – McDonald’s and Baskin Robbins – which at that time was the height of affluence in Caracas. Eating at McDonald’s was a status symbol – working there was even better! Prices were the SAME as in America making this one of the most expensive dining options and all the hip and wealthy teens hung out there. She also took us to a traditional Spanish restaurant with 12 family members and I had Paella for the first time and experienced the horror of going out to dinner in a short dress with no underwear on (long story – almost another posts’ worth – use your imagination)
She showed us the strafe marks from the bullets that had been fired by rebels at the government buildings during a major coup 3 years previously and told us about listening to the radio to learn her classes had been cancelled due to “uprising”.
She took us to every party and friends house she could – proud to show us off and include us even though we didn’t speak Spanish. Sometimes we would just hang out in her room on her girly bunk beds and watch movies we had rented from Blockbuster. I specifically remember watching “City of Joy” with Patrick Swayze one rainy afternoon and thinking THAT was real travel – I had it pretty easy.
As our date of departure neared we spent two fun days helping Claudia make her scale model for her architecture final and then celebrated by going to her beach condo for the weekend where we drank lots of rum, played hearts (the card game) and watched “Baywatch” in Spanish. It was here in this little beach town that the monkey thing happened (feeling strung along yet? get used to it – I’m on South American time here). Paul and I were finally preparing to leave Caracas and head on. The plan was to go see Angel Falls –
which is not very easy to get to and (at the time) required a special permit issued by the government. Claudia graciously offered to help us get information at a local government office.
As we waited for our turn to ask our question (Think Roz in Monster’s University or any DMV and you get the picture) a large bearded man in wrinkled Chino’s and a billowing white shirt came into the room. He looked like a South American Santa Claus; jolly and disheveled. He extracted a large handkerchief from his back pocket and carefully wiped his face and his bald head and then looked down at us sitting primly on our folding chairs, hands in our laps and quietly sweating to death. He cracked a big smile and said in booming English with no preamble, “Do you want to see the world’s smallest monkey?”
How do you answer such a question? “Yes” I said without hesitation. He smiled and dipped two fingers into his shirt pocket and extracted what looked like a lint ball and gestured for me to put my hands together like a cup. Then he carefully set down his prize.
It was a pygmy marmoset and his tiny hands were smaller than pencil erasers, his ears the size of fingernail clippings. The creature sat placidly in my hands nibbling on its tail until eventually Santa scooped him back up and deposited him back in his shirt pocket. Then he left. I don’t even know why he came into the room in the first place? Maybe he just liked showing people his monkey (well that sure sounds inappropriate! – see, I’m trying).
It was close to three weeks since we had arrived and it was time to move on. Ana and her family had been very hospitable but I never felt very much at home in their house. They were busy people who kept late hours and we rarely saw them. The mother and sister seemed to spend most of their time watching soaps and shopping on QVC. They had many furs and jewels and other fancy things and occasionally you would see them sprawled out like kittens on the couch watching tv and shopping for things via phone, dressed in their minks and finery while they did it. Maybe for comparison shopping? Or maybe just for fun? Hard to say. My one big break through with the matriarchs came when through Ana’s translations they learned that I knew how to make a New York Style cheesecake.
which NYC is rightly famous for. Being an east coaster I took this desert food for granted, was practically weaned on it, but for them it was a rare delicacy. I offered to get my mother’s recipe and give it a go. As there was no internet (gasp) I called my mom and she then faxed the recipe over. My heart contracted when I saw my mother’s careful looping script – my first real pang of homesickness. We went to the store and tried our best to find the ingredients. There was no cream cheese but there was a local cheese that was close. And we had to fudge a bit on the graham crackers but otherwise I nailed it.
Watching the collected faces of the household as I extracted the finished cake from the oven was amazing – it was like I had just invented fire. Once it cooled slices were reverently passed around and sampled. Ana’s mother actually hugged me and Kooky Aunt kissed both my cheeks and said something in Spanish that sounded flattering. Proud of myself I went to bed that night feeling like I had at last made a good impression. The next morning when I awoke and came down for breakfast, however, the error of my ways became apparent. There, spread across the kitchen countertop were the ingredients to make 6 more cheesecakes. Apparently after I had gone to bed the mother and the aunt had (probably) draped themselves in furs and diamonds and called all of their friends to talk about the “cheesecake miracle”. And they had taken orders. It was time for me to get the fuck out of Caracas.
Next stop; A plague of frogs and other fun stuff